This time three years ago I had just woken up. The weather report said it was going to be a glorious day and the sun was starting to poke through the blackout blinds of my Velux windows in mine and the Management’s bedroom. I’d gone to bed a little later than a usual school night but I still couldn’t sleep and so I think I’d had about five hours when I opened my eyes on that Saturday morn. It was excitement. It was the prospect of what was to come.
It was FA Cup final day.
2017 was the final of the FA Cup and we were there for the third time in three years. We were the joint most successful team in the competition having won the trophy in 2014 against Hull, then smashed Villa in 2015, only for Man United to draw level with us on FA Cup wins in 2016 with their 2-1 win over Pardew’s Crystal Palace. So what was to unfold on 27th May 2017 could either see us stuck with them on 12 wins each, or separate us by one.
I remember getting ready and thinking about all of the historic days I’d witnessed as an Arsenal fan and this was potentially going to be another one. But if you know me and follow my writing/social mediaring, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to The Arsenal. That’s because it’s my defence mechanism. I can’t help it. It is me protecting myself from the disappointment because if that happens, if I’ve mentally prepared myself for it, then it doesn’t feel as much of a hammer blow.
That’s why – as I was cooking my breakfast bacon sarnie in the morning – remember texting some of the lads and asking them about their thoughts, whilst at the same time admitting I’m not confident but am hopeful. I remember messaging Dave Seager and telling him that I’d be arriving at JJ Moons near Kingsbury station – one stop up from Wembley Park tube – about 11.30am. I was so excited I just wanted to get there and start to soak up the atmosphere as soon as possible. Dave was going to get to me as soon as possible but he had a longer journey. Then as the day would start to unfold more and more friends would be filtering in to the pub.
And the drinking and the excitement began to build. Chelski were the opponents and they’d just been crowned champions. I wasn’t exactly optimistic. They’d got a very good, very efficient team under Antonio Conte and as we ticked closer to kick off I remember saying that for us it’s just an outside chance. After all, we were missing Gabriel, Koscielny was suspended due to his silly red card on the last game of the season against Everton, but even Mustafi wasn’t fit to play. Arsene had switched to three at the back to try to arrest our slump and the absolute carnage that was our leaking defence. We had to call on Mertesacker who’d barely played all season, Monreal who was a left back, then Rob Holding, who was our young and unproven centre half up against the threat that was Diego Costa. Costa had regularly been a thorn in our side and had also regularly had an ability to ‘get to’ our players, so not only was I worried that he’d be doing some Class A Sh*thousery today, but I also thought he’d probably have a goal or two in him against us.
So as I said I wasn’t exactly confident but I was hopeful and as we made our way to the famous ground that hope grew and grew as my alcohol intake had expanded too. I even went as far as to get myself a little online bet going, which I don’t always feel like I have the stomach for. But I found something with some sign up bonuses and thought I’d go for it.
And then it kicked off at 5.30pm. And all of my worries about our injuries, about how Chelski would dominate us, about how we’d be watching the game from behind our fingers, all disappeared.
I’ve seen us beat Southampton in the Cup final at Cardiff, I’ve seen us beat Hull in extra time, I’ve seen us smash Villa, but of all of the finals I’ve been in, this was the one game that I think we’d played the best football. We dominated from start to finish it felt like and in that balmy Wembley sunshine I saw an Arsenal team who stood up and delivered. Mertesacker was imperious in defence and alongside him Rob Holding had Costa in his pocket. Rob Holding! The kid! He’d stood up, decided this was his Gandalf ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS’ moment and we were privileged enough that it was in that big game. And we’d gone ahead so early through Alexis Sanchez in the fourth minute, that it felt like we had a touch of destiny about us that day.
Of course Chelski being the team they were they wrestled back a goal despite being down to ten men as Moses had dived. Playing against ten men we were dominant, but that goal felt cruel because I thought we’d been the better team for most of the match and should have taken advantage of our numerical player advantage on the pitch. But we’re The Arsenal and we don’t do things the easy way.
It was a sucker punch in the 76th minute but the goal that Ramsey scored from that Giroud cross – right in front of us in the ground – probably meant that it felt all the sweeter. Our end erupted and as we saw out the game I just remember looking up to the sky and thanking the footballing gods for such a performance.
It was an amazing day. I stumbled home to The Management inebriated, but very happy with what had transpired. A memory that I will always cherish and even now, three years on, I sit here at my desk at home and tap away at my keyboard with a smile on my face.
Catch you people tomorrow.